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A second metagenomics generation to better understand plant virus ecology and evolution (GEOMETAGENOMICS)
Start date: Aug 24, 2014, End date: Aug 23, 2017 PROJECT  FINISHED 

"Understanding the dynamics of viral diversity at interfaces between preserved and cultivated areas is a necessary major step towards understanding the molecular evolutionary processes underlying the emergence of plant viruses as agricultural pathogens. This project is likely to yield large volumes of novel information both on natural viral diversity associated with threatened ecosystems, and on the impact of human mediated disturbances on this diversity. Our first objective is to decipher contemporary plant viral dynamics within a defined spatiotemporal framework located in the fynbos biome of South Africa, and to assess the impact of fire and agriculture upon fynbos plant viral biodiversity. Our second objective is to retrieve virus sequences from preserved herbarium specimens to analyze past viral diversity. Our third objective is to specifically target an entire virus family (Geminiviridae) in order to understand the evolutionary processes by which geminivirus have emerged over the past two centuries to become important crop pathogens. During the colonization era these viruses jumped from their indigenous African hosts into the exotic crop species introduced by Europeans. Following adaptation to these hosts some of these newly emergent virus strains spread across the continent to become what are today among the most important biotic threats to African food security. During the outgoing phase, I will be joining Dr Martin’s group (Univ. of Cape Town), who has an extensive track record in both the experimental and computational analysis of virus evolution and genetic diversity. I firmly believe that this project will be the first step in my development as a world-leader in the field of virus evolutionary-ecology research that could credibly apply for and obtain ERC Advanced Grants and will enhance transnational access to research infrastructures for African and European researchers, and directly promote integration of African and European research enterprises."
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